The Third International after Lenin

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Draper sums-up Marx's approach to the state

The end of chapter 23 marks the end of Draper's book. (Except that there are still several hundred pages of appendices, notes, and indexes to go.)
The final section of chapter 23 serves as a kind of summation of themes Draper has explicated in rich detail in the preceding 520 pages.
***
Hal Draper. Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution. Volume 1: State and Bureacracy. 1977.
From Chapter 23, Section
5. THE GENERAL THEORY OF THE STATE
....Engels presented the basic formularization of the socioeconomic foundation of the state structure. It is expressed in terms broad enough to include the normal class interpretation of the normal state; that is, it underlies the class formula. Like the latter, it is put in terms of executors. Writing specifically of the complex role of the Russian state absolutism, Engels stated:
All governments, be they ever so absolute, are en dernier lieu [in the last analysis] but the executors of the economic necessities of the national situation. They may do this in various ways, good, bad and indifferent; they may accelerate or retard the economic development and its political and juridical consequences, but in the long run they must follow it.35 
This, Engels continued, was why the industrial revolution in Russia was unavoidable.
This was no new thought for Engels, even in this aphoristic form. He had met the same problem in a similar way, if from another direction, in 1875. In the essay against Tkachov, as mentioned, Engels showed how the interests of the various classes are the material bases on which the state stands, instead of hanging inthe air. But he does not turn the Tkachov fantasy over on its other side by trying to prove that this Russian state is simply the instrument of a particular class. The conclusion he comes to is put as follows: 
Not only the Russian state in general but even its specific form, the czarist despotism, instead of hanging in the air, is the necessary and logical product of the Russian social conditions with which, according to Mr. Tkachov, it has “nothing in common”!36 
This is a formula for the nature of the state which cuts behind—or deeper than—the normal class formula.* 
The relation between these two formulas can now be understood to state the full content of Marx’s theory of the state:
Under normal conditions—conditions of relative stability in society—the necessary product of the social conditions is the accession of a particular class to the unshared domination of the state power. But this can hardly be the product in a period when a societal transition is still unresolved. It cannot be the product when classes are still struggling for dominion in an undecided contest; in such a flux the state’s class content will reflect the state of the war. Nor can it be the necessary product in a situation such as Russia’s, driven into the maelstrom of social revolution from above, where no class of civil society was capable of acting as “executors of the economic necessities of the national situation.” 
In this Russian case, what was needed was a class whose own interests impelled it to act as the instrument to save the real interests of all the social strata that had a stake in the ongoing society, to save them by saving the society itself from the collapse which was the only alternative to the social transformation . This is what defines “the economic necessities of the national situation,” not in terms of the interests of any single class, but in terms of the class constellation as a whole.
The only social power that could perform this function was the state apparatus. In this way the state acts as the Gesamteinheit—the overall Unity—not simply of “society” in the abstract, but of all class elements whose real interests rest on the maintenance of social exploitation in one form or another. 
And the maintenance of social exploitation in one form or another, in the midst of the Russian transmogrification, had a very concrete meaning, capable of being figured in rubles. In general, we here meet a phenomenon that was also important in Western Europe in the eventual bourgeoisification of the feudalaristocracy itself, insofar as the latter reconciled itself to the inevitability of change instead of inviting a 1789 type of revolutionary convulsion. Both the old and the new ruling class—the landowning nobles and the bourgeois—were equally property-owning, exploitive classes. The revolution from above was a shift from one mode of extracting surplus labor to another. This was also the reason why a revolution from above was possible . The old ruling class in crisis learns that, at any rate, this sort of revolution offers them some very comforting mitigations of the indignity forced upon them: namely, continued economic privileges to one degree or another. (We had occasion to make this point in Chapter 14 regarding the Bismarckian development.)38
But this consolation prize depends on channeling the inescapable revolution into a form that maintains social exploitation in one form or another. It is not usually just one of the contending classes themselves that can undertake the organization of this redistribution of power; as we have pointed out elsewhere, it is difficult for one sector of the capitalist class, for example, to referee the internecine struggles of competing capitalists to make sure that the system is not shaken apart by the melee. In the Russian case, it is the state that acted as the executor for the interests of class society as a whole.
Autonomous from any particular class of civil society, it could embody what the contenders had in common: the need to ensure the conditions under which to continue the extraction of surplus labor from the mass of people.
This spells out the class content of Engels’ formulation of the theory of the state: the state, “necessary and logical product of the [given] social conditions,” is always in the last analysis “the executor of the economic necessities of the national situation.” Thus it is always the organizer of society in the interests of the class (exploitive) structure taken as a whole. This is the general theory of the state in Marx and Engels.
Within its framework lies the special theory of the state which applies to normal times and conditions in roughly the same way as Euclidean geometry applies to normal space. It is the view of the state as the managing committee of a ruling class with which we started in Chapter 11.
Normality here is a function of the process of change. The more rapid the change—the more revolutionary the times, the more history is caught in the flux of becoming—the more does the special theory begin to warp away from a close match with reality, and the more does the general theory of the state become applicable in order to explain the pattern of political power in the process of social transformation.
Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution I, Hal Draper.

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